As road construction season gets up to full speed in Northeast this summer, the small inconveniences it poses should pale in comparison to the previous headaches created by the closures of the Lowry and Plymouth Bridges in recent years.
However, another bridge project that may prove difficult for residents and businesses looms.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) will replace the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad bridge that lies between 14th Avenue NE and 18th Avenue NE over Central Avenue at a projected cost of $14 million, starting in the spring of 2014 and ending that fall.
The project was originally slated to take place this summer but community pushback and additional planning moved the project’s current schedule.
According to MnDOT, the bridge replacement would result in either partial or full closure of Central Avenue between 14th and 18th avenues to vehicle, bike and pedestrian traffic.
“The goal is to replace that railroad bridge that needs to go,” said Bobby Dahlke, who handles public affairs for the metro district at MnDot.
Per a MnDOT fact sheet regarding the project, the bridge was built in 1924 and “has aged and needs to be replaced.”
Dahlke said the bridge was last repaired 20 years ago and falls under MnDOT’s purview because it crosses a state highway; Central Avenue is also Minnesota State Highway 65.
The replacement bridge would be a single span, eliminating the three piers that support the current bridge. The sidewalks under the bridge would be widened to 12 feet and the retaining walls along the roadway would be rebuilt.
“We do plan to take this out and meet with the communities,” she said. “Closures and detours are being worked through before taking the dog and pony show out.”
State Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-59A) said she agrees that the bridge needs to be replaced, because “we don’t need bridges falling,” though she’d like the scope of the project to include other bridges in the area that appear to be equally as old as the bridge that will be replaced.
“This would be a major disruption to the main business corridor of Northeast,” she said. “If we’re going to have to deal with them we should do them all at once.”
Loeffler said she was concerned with the design of the bridge, which should act as a gateway to Northeast, representing the neighborhood’s arts culture; she said she has yet to see details on the bridge’s design.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done before this moves forward into a final plan,” she said. “This really needs to have an effective community engagement process.”
She said the “the open house [meeting] isn’t working,” and that the response from MnDOT to community concerns, up to this point, has been “frustrating.”
Diamond Coffee Shoppe, located at 1618 Central Ave. NE, is yards away from where the construction project would take place.
Diamond’s owner, Lucy Bacon said that an estimated 16,000 cars pass by her shop daily and that even with a partial closure of Central Avenue, she would expect a 40 percent drop in business.
“If they close the road they’ll put me out of business,” she said.
Bacon has been vocal in her opposition to a complete closure of the road. In December of last year, she hosted a community meeting at Diamond regarding the project, and since, has distributed a flyer titled “Don’t Let Them Close Central Ave!” She said she hands out 60 flyers a week.
Bacon said she was anticipating the next meeting about the project.
“I’d just really like to know when the next meeting will be to make a show of force,” she said.
A proposed detour plan to be put in place during construction will reroute northbound vehicle traffic to Johnson Street NE, while southbound traffic would be moved to University Avenue NE. The detour will be bounded by Lowry Avenue NE to the north and Broadway Street NE to the south.
Bike and pedestrian traffic will be rerouted to the west of Central on 14th Avenue NE, north on Van Buren Street NE, where it will link up with a temporary bike and pedestrian trail along the railway, exiting on 18th Avenue NE.
Gayle Bonneville, who runs Windom Park Citizens in Action, hosted a MnDOT presentation about the bridge reconstruction project at the groups May 21 meeting.
“I don’t think people were wild about his being a detour route,” she said, as the detour could potentially increase traffic in the Windom Park neighborhood.
Bonneville said that much of the presentation was brand new information to many in attendance and it was a one-way discussion.
“This was not an opportunity. We weren’t given an opportunity to have much input,” she said.